76ers

Sixers-Wizards thoughts: Finally, a season opener with meaning

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NBCSP

Sixers-Wizards thoughts: Finally, a season opener with meaning

Sixers vs. Wizards
7 p.m. on ESPN
Sixers Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m., Postgame Live on NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports app

This is different.

For the first time in a handful of years, the Sixers are set to tip off an NBA regular season with legitimate expectations and hope (see Fearless Forecast).

That all gets started in our nation’s capital as the Sixers open up the 2017-18 campaign against the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center.

Let’s take a closer look at the matchup:

• You know the numbers by now: 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2.5 blocks in 25.4 minutes per game.

Joel Embiid was an absolute force during his rookie season. After sitting out two years with foot injuries, Embiid showed the entire league just how dominant he can be when healthy. However, that lasted only 31 games before the big man suffered a torn meniscus.

That brings us back to the final section in that stat line: minutes. Embiid will be on a minutes restriction to start the season, a decision the center made clear that he does not support (see story). With the team eyeing around 16 minutes on opening night, things can get tricky. If he has it rolling early, do the Sixers still take him out at his designated time? Will they go light on playing time early to save him for down the stretch?

With the Sixers finally focused on actually winning some games and not solely on building for the future, it will be interesting to see how Brett Brown handles Embiid’s time on the floor.

• Time for take two on Ben Simmons' rookie season. Much like recent Sixers before him, Simmons sat out what would have been his entire rookie year after fracturing his foot in training camp.

While Simmons likely could have returned at some point in 2016-17, Rookie of the Year campaigns aren’t built on portions of seasons (just ask Embiid). And make no mistake about it, the Sixers’ new starting point guard has his sights set on bringing home the hardware.

Leading a team on the rise with his versatile skill set suggests Simmons will be among the frontrunners for the award. He put up 11.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.4 steals per game during the preseason. 

But at some point, he will have to give teams a reason to respect his shooting ability from outside the paint. Simmons was 0 for 3 from three-point range and 9 for 22 from the free throw line during preseason action.

• Speaking of rookies, when is the last time the No. 1 overall pick has come into his first season as under the radar as Markelle Fultz?

Since being selected atop June’s NBA draft, it’s been an up-and-down transition for Fultz. The Washington product showed his scoring prowess in summer league play before going down with an ankle injury. Then a shoulder injury suffered during camp caused him to alter his shooting stroke. Finally, an ailing knee forced him to the sideline for the rest of preseason.

Now Fultz will come off the bench with the second unit. It should be a better situation for him as he can be more of a focal point and to handle the ball more often without sharing the floor with Simmons. However, if the 19-year-old continues down a rocky path to start, will he be able to handle the criticism?

• Outside of the Stephen Curry-Klay Thompson pairing, there is always debate about which team owns the best backcourt duo. Is it Toronto’s Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan? What about Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum in Portland?

Scratch all of that. Besides the “Splash Brothers” in the Bay, my money is on the Wizards’ John Wall and Bradley Beal.

The guards simply get better each season, with 2016-17 being their best yet. Wall and Beal combined to average 46.2 points (23.1 apiece), 13.8 assists, 7.7 rebounds and 3.1 steals.

They are simply electric. And if matchups shake out as planned, veterans Jerryd Bayless and JJ Redick could be in for a long night.

• If anyone is looking forward to tipping off a new season, it has to be Brett Brown. The Sixers' head coach has endured one of the most extensive rebuilds in professional sports history and the anguish that goes along with such a plan.

Despite a 75-253 record over his first four seasons, Brown was able to not only keep the Sixers together but also still get them to compete to their best ability on a nightly basis.

And while that is certainly to be commended, things have flipped in a hurry for the head man. Brown’s objective now is to win and a fast start would go a long way toward proving he is really the man to transition the Sixers to the next phase of their rebuild. However, with 16 of the team’s first 21 games against opponents that reached the playoffs last season, it will be far from easy.

• The Sixers took two of the three matchups against the Wizards last season to win the season series. Jahlil Okafor actually led the way with an average of 18.7 points against the Wiz.

'Dots don't connect' for Sixers on inbound confusion

'Dots don't connect' for Sixers on inbound confusion

Of all the scenarios that transpired over the Sixers’ triple-overtime loss to the Thunder on Friday, there is one moment that stands out.

Fast-forward to the end of the second overtime. The Sixers had the opportunity to take the final shot after Dario Saric grabbed a defensive rebound. Joel Embiid motioned for a timeout before Saric put the ball on the floor. 

The Sixers huddled and prepared for a half-court play they had practiced before, confident they could execute it with 1.2 seconds on the game clock.

However, as they went to set up, the officials told them the inbound was actually full court. Saric had dribbled the ball before the timeout was called, they were told. That change wiped out the play they had initially planned. 

“They asked us what side of the floor did we want to advance it to, and so we told them,” Brett Brown said. “We drew up a play to try to score. Then we walked out and they said no you can’t advance it, it goes full court. When you look at the tape, you can see Joel and myself calling a timeout with 1.2 seconds. They said Dario dribbled, yet there were still 1.2 seconds. The dots don’t connect.”

The last-second shift in inbound position left the Sixers scrambling. Embiid said the team was “caught off guard.” Ben Simmons considered the call to be “huge.” 

“We weren’t told that we couldn’t progress the ball up the floor until we actually had to run the play,” Simmons said. “That kind of messed us up. We got into a late play, which didn’t convert.” 

The Sixers didn’t connect on their final possession. There’s no guarantee the shot would have gone in, but they would have been prepared to get a good look. 

“[It changed] everything,” Robert Covington said. 

Instead of pulling off a last-second game-winner, the Sixers went into triple overtime. They were edged out by two points, 119-117 (see game recap)

"That kind of like messed up in our minds, but that’s not an excuse," Embiid said. "We shouldn’t have an excuse for losing that game."

Joel Embiid won't back down in his house

Joel Embiid won't back down in his house

BOX SCORE

Joel Embiid’s Tour de Trash Talking continued Friday night in the Sixers’ triple-overtime loss to the Thunder.

Two days after an Instagram exchange with friend Karl-Anthony Towns, things got chippier against the Thunder veterans. Embiid swapped words with both Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook. 

Westbrook took exception when Embiid waved goodbye to Steven Adams when the Thunder center fouled out, and the reigning MVP sent a message of his own after the game. 

“He told me to go home,” Embiid said. “And this is my home and I ain’t going nowhere.”

Embiid said he gave the Thunder credit for the 119-117 win (see observations), but took a jab at Westbrook’s individual performance. Even though Westbrook recorded a 27-point, 18-rebound, 15-assist triple-double, he shot just 30 percent in the effort. 

“The dude shot like 10 for 33,” Embiid said. “I wish I would have shot 33 times. I guess we would have had a better chance of actually winning the game.”

Embiid told Westbrook he would see him in Oklahoma City. The Sixers play the Thunder on the road Jan. 28. 

“I’m not about to get into back and forth with him,” Westbrook said, according to The Oklahoman. “I’m not about to give him my energy.”

Before Embiid had words with Westbrook, there was chatter between him and Anthony.

With the Sixers down seven and 2:26 on the clock, Embiid banked in a hook shot as he was fouled by Anthony (see highlights). After the bucket, Embiid shouted “and-one” several times in Anthony’s direction, which led to some jawing between the pair. 

Embiid reiterated he isn’t going to back down, nor is he concerned about these exchanges turning physical. 

“He just said something like, ‘Don’t do this with me,’ or something like that,” Embiid said. “I’m like, ‘Dude, you’re not going to do anything. You fouled me. I had the and-one on you.’ 

“Guys in the league, I can’t remember the last time someone actually threw a punch on somebody. I’m not worried about anybody. I’ve seen out there a lot, all over the place about people talking about people coming back at me. I’m African, so don’t try me.”

Embiid has been involved in trash talking with players around the league, from Towns to Draymond Green, Hassan Whiteside to Andre Drummond. Each time, he emphasizes the exchanges are conversations, not altercations. 

"I’m having fun," Embiid said. "What goes on the court, stays on the court. I don’t think I ever disrespect anybody."